The Between: The St. James’s Street Ghost

“But if one is to engage with the primordial forces of darkness, one must expect a bit of social awkwardness.”

Penny Dreadful, S1E2, Séance

The Thursday night posse six players, only two could make it. So, I invited a dear friend who I knew was game-hungry (after checking in with the two other players) and read over The Between by Jason Cardova. There are only so many nights for gaming during the Halloween season and the slight chill in the air means tonight is one of them. Felt wrong to cancel; let’s play.

Pumpkin headed ghost things riding black cats on a Hallowe’en card from NYPL’s Digital Collection:

I don’t like one-shots. I can do them but just don’t really enjoy them. At cons, even after a great con session, I’m always left feeling, “That was fun but the next session would’ve been even better.” The Between‘s mechanics agree with me. The game’s structure has different phases (Dawn, Day, Dusk and Night). We get through Day and into Dusk in two hours (including chargen). The first session guidelines are very clear. After two hours the mechanics were just starting to get warmed up and we had details generated through play that were good fun.

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Below are the clues gathered by the intrepid supernatural hunters of the Hargrave House:

Harold’s ledger contains entries for strange household expenses he can’t explain, like “thought-casting” and “dream whisperer” and “pig gifts.”

A porcelain vase filled with fresh, warm blood.

The sound of someone falling down stairs; there’s no one there when you investigate.

A stack of love letters from another time.

Those are right off of the pre-made Threat, The St. James’s Street Ghost out of the book, suggested as the Threat to start with. But it isn’t a monster of the week, where each threat will be tidied up. During the next Day phase I’d probably introduce a new threat. I like the idea of them piling up a bit – not EVERY Day phase but enough that things get a little hectic and busy.

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Residents of the Hargrave House

Our characters were (with pics of Queen Victoria’s blood-spattered head as bullet-points):

Eoin Clay, the American, the Duchess’ resident American, don’t you know.

Winfree Humes, the Duchess’ servant

Duchess Josephine Thornwood, Duchess of Abercald

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During the Dusk phase, we set a scene in a room in Hargrave House, the characters’ headquarters, and flesh it out a bit. The question for the Trophy Room asked the table what the hunters of the supernatural who had previously lived in the house had left. We’ve got a box full of vampire teeth, a fire-scorched unicorn’s horn and a jar filled with vinegar with an organ floating in it labelled, Siren’s Voice-Box. The Questions put in place to ask players for these kinds of scenes (painting the scene, Jason calls it) are well wrought, written by someone who has used this technique for years.

I need to talk more about Unscenes but barely got to touch this new toy, only kind of hinted at their existence as we finished the Dusk phase and ended the first session. They come to life in the Night phase. More on Unscenes later.

When I read that the GM didn’t have an idea of what the mystery actually was and would find out through dice rolls along with the rest of the table, I was skeptical. Shit works. The way the Answer a Question move is fed from clues found in the Information Move is really slick.

The Dawn Questions are clearly Blades in the Dark XP tech but choosing 2 of the 5 XP prompts from a list is a classy touch.

Masks are kind of like Resistance Rolls, only instead of rolling the player narrates something about their past or evolves and changes and it nudges the results up a tier. From a miss to a 7-9, from 7-9 to 10-11 and 10-11 to a 12+. You can nudge the dice but doing so either unveils a piece of the character’s history or activates something from their past and brings it into the game as a concrete Threat.

I’m smitten and not because Jason is a friend and co-conspirator. Believe me when I tell you that I’ve played friends’ games before and not written about them. It is $15. Go grab a copy and walk the streets of Victorian London with your friends this Halloween. Let me know how it goes.

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As the game ended, Mr. Humes handing the Beale baby off to the Duchess’ maid, the Duchess was reading up on London ghosts and Eoin Clay was standing under a neighbor’s eaves in the rain, smoking a cigar, watching the haunted house they were investigating, waiting for something to happen.

Night was about to fall; something was about to occur.

Looking forward to finding out what and how this trio will deal with it, what we’ll learn about them in the process.

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